Marzipan is usually manipulated to decorate cakes, fill chocolates, and make little fruits or angel figurines. Or, in the case of Austrian artist Helga Petrau-Heinzel, glistening organs, naked female busts, and juicy meats.
Petrau-Heinzel, who lives in Vienna, told us over email that she has an eye for the unusual and a predilection for the bizarre side of life, which she expresses through her work. She likes to tell stories, so she often produces larger scenes. Take these marzipan pieces, laid out on a long table on plates and platters, a visual feast that Petrau-Heinzel called “Décadence.”
Petrau-Heinzel’s relationship with marzipan began several years ago, when she was commissioned for a project by the most famous pastry shop in Vienna. For the contract, it was necessary to use a sweet material, and she found that marzipan could be sculpted into wonderful shapes and given a very vivid look. She created a realistic bust of romance novelist Barbara Cartland, Spanish Renaissance artist El Greco, and others, causing a stir in the art and confectionary communities.
Soon after, she began experimenting further. She went to the butcher for some raw animal organs and employed them as models, shaping and coloring the marzipan to create hyperrealistic works. Petrau-Heinzel describes the collection, which was decorated with strings of pearls and butterfly wings, as a decadent panel, an “Aesthetics of Ugliness.” In part, the display was an expression of her opposition to the still nascent economy of luxury gastronomy.
Though many people felt repelled by the exhibit’s life-like representations, some actually asked the artist if they could taste her gory confections. The pieces have since been dismantled, but you can still feast your eyes on the slimy brains, flavorful livers, dead, de-feathered chicken, and quivering heart that looks as though it just ceased beating.
Petrau-Heinzel is still working with marzipan; she recently made a cake being crushed by a high-heeled shoe. Her next project? A series of ladies’ underwear, constructed out of yarn, wire, and old lace.